National Specialties Bespeak History

Learning From an Expert
A large, rough-coated Greyhound-like dog

It’s all very exciting, maybe even tense—the National Specialty! Who will be there and what dogs will they have? Now, of course, is the PRESENT, but a National is so much more than that; it is the PAST and the FUTURE as well; your breed’s history, all at one time and in one venue.

I was preparing to judge an Irish Wolfhound Specialty. So, I checked the website for information and a review when I was suitably impressed with an article I found there by Joel Samaha whose IW book I had read years ago and with whom I had observed in the ring at one time.

Image Credits: Judging Irish Wolfhounds - A Guide by Joel Samaha
Image Credits: Judging Irish Wolfhounds – A Guide by Joel Samaha

I was so impressed with his words that I wanted to share them with others. From Joel’s 1985 Introduction to Judging Irish Wolfhounds—A Guide, I quote:

A National Specialty brings together many dogs from all over the country and even from other countries. It affords a rare opportunity to see dogs across a wide spectrum who in their owners’ judgment represent the best they have. Viewed from a broad perspective, these dogs enable us to assess our breed’s past, present and future. Dogs in their prime—concentrated in the Bred by Exhibitor, American Bred, Open and Specials classes—represent the breed’s present state. Also in evidence is our deep debt to the past. We glimpse that past in the Veterans classes first hand and it speaks to us indirectly through the heritage displayed in pedigrees from all classes.

We must never forget this heritage in our preoccupation with the present. Not only do we see the present and the past, in the puppies, yearlings and novices is revealed our hope for the breed’s future. They are a gauge to the direction we are going. From them, we can assess to what extent we are fulfilling our custodial responsibility to leave the breed in at least as good a condition as we found it.

Attending a Specialty, then, is obviously a valuable opportunity to learn about our breed. But it can be overwhelming, especially to novices who wonder how best to reap the benefits from this experience. In order to help you follow the judging, I have outlined my procedure for deciding where to place the dogs in each class. I have also included some comments about each step. I hope they will give you a little idea of what I am doing and why. Use this guide and commentary not only to follow what I am doing but also to clarify your own ideas. I believe firmly, and urge you strongly, to make your own decisions about the dogs. Everyone has an opinion. Compare your decision with mine and consider why you prefer some to others and why one is your choice for Best in Show.

Joel also authored a Wolfhound book, The Complete Irish Wolfhound, Howell Book House, 1991 last printing. He easily takes us through Wolfhound history in the U.S. and simultaneously traces Wolfhounds from early history, near extinction, and the nineteenth century restoration. His insights are not just “wolfhound” but “dog world” in general. Worth reading.

I am using the Wolfhound drawings to support his statements and for summarizing his thoughts. You must substitute your breed for his breed.

Left: Heavy muscles should cover both thigh and second thighs. - Right: Stifles should bend nicely.
Left: Heavy muscles should cover both thigh and second thighs. – Right: Stifles should bend nicely.


Suggestions by Joel:

As you observe the dogs standing, assess four critical features:

  • shape
  • presence
  • quality
  • balance

Then together around, determine not soundness yet (that will come with the individual exam), but the four critical traits again. You might be surprised. Best stacked is often least typical moving, bringing to the fore the best stacked’s type faults.

Since we know that no dog is perfect, keep an open mind. Your Breed Standard describes a range, not a point on a spectrum, of what is correct. Reasonable people can disagree about the meaning in a Standard. It’s okay. Discussion and even disagreement enhances one’s understanding. Your job, in evaluating dogs, is to find the ones that are closest to an ideal in your mind’s eye. Knowing the purpose of the breed (A MUST) will determine necessary bone and substance for your breed, and front and rear properties needed to fulfill a breed’s purpose. Evaluating structure requires feeling and observing together.

It goes without mentioning that ribbing, length and spring, is important for any breed to accommodate and protect heart and lungs, the vital organs. As one gets into breed specificity, that head is all-important. Its features are also determined largely by the purpose of the breed. Of course, aesthetics also plays a part.

Tail, length and set, are vitally important. Your Standard and breed’s purpose will determine the degree of slope to the croup and the tail set.

Balance, both moving and standing, so often stated but often misunderstood, is essential: shape, breadth and depth, lengths and substance. A balanced dog is at rest. He is comfortable. No need for cranking into a stance or jerking the head up or down while in motion. He stands comfortably and moves easily.

As you approach a new breed, how do you know what to look for and what is important?

The very first paragraph of most Standards will give you guidance. If not there, then use the breed’s purpose to solve your dilemma.


Shoulders well laid-back that slope inward at the withers.
Shoulders well laid-back that slope inward at the withers.

As you observe the dogs standing, assess four critical features: shape, presence, quality, and balance.

I heartily recommend the reading of Joel’s IW book for perspective on the dog world over the decades. Go to the website to find the material from which I have drawn for this article. All is worth reading.

Know your breed’s purpose and enjoy history at your National.

  • Though she owned an Irish Setter and a Belgian breed as a child, Kitty Steidel’s serious involvement with dogs dates back to 1967 when Kitty and her husband purchased their first Basset Hound from a show breeder. The breeder suggested they show her. So, to investigate showing, Kitty traipsed the countryside in Pennsylvania for two years with a Basset exhibitor, attending shows and observing the breed. After observing at shows, Kitty decided that her first Basset was not a show prospect; however, she did have one litter by her grandsire. Kitty and her husband attended their first National with a bitch from that litter when, after going third in the Bred-By Exhibitor Class, Kitty was hooked. She joined a steward’s club and attended every imaginable workshop/seminar on dogs, especially those sponsored by the German Shepherd Dog clubs, and she collected dog books and articles. Of particular interest were the various breeds that served a hunting purpose; scenthounds, in particular. One never knows what will spark the interest in our sport. Kitty and her husband have some 50-plus years of involvement in Basset Hounds, breeding under the “Sanchu” prefix. They have probably finished close to a hundred Sanchu-related champions. In the early ‘80s, a trip to Denmark to visit Basset fanciers and a side trip to the home of a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen breeder ignited Kitty’s interest in the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen. Realizing that this breed would take off in the US and concerned about its proper introduction here, she developed a newsletter and organized a club. The Inaugural Meeting, which founded the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Club of America, was held in Philadelphia at the AKC Centennial in 1984. Kitty became a Life Member a few years ago. Having served on the Board of the Basset Hound Club of America and on their Judges Education Committee for over 20 years, Kitty has also served on nearly every committee with the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Club of America, including the offices of President and Secretary. She has assisted more than once with the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Official Standard Revisions, chaired the committee to produce the CD, and developed many of the materials for seminars. In 1987, Kitty’s book, Understanding the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen: Rustic French Hound (Orient), received a nomination for best breed book by the Dog Writers Association of America. Though there are now several Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen books, in 1987 it was the first book, written in any language, devoted exclusively to the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen. Kitty judged her first Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Specialty in Denmark before they were recognized in the US. She recalls quickly studying up on the Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen, the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, the Basset Bleu de Gascogne, and the Fauve de Bretagne, all part of the Basset Hound Club of Denmark. Over thirty some years later. Kitty is still learning and trying to get across the concept of “casual” with those Vendeen hounds. Kitty enjoys writing and has contributed columns to the AKC Gazette for the PBGVCA for years, and she serves as the PBGVCA Judges Education Coordinator to this day. Outside of parent clubs, she has represented the Channel City Kennel Club (Santa Barbara, California) as AKC Delegate for 14 years, served on the Board of the Scottsdale Dog Fanciers Association in Arizona, and coordinated the Scottsdale Dog Judges Workshop group for many years. Recently, Kitty was invited to membership in the Golden Gate Kennel Club. Her job is JEC for Rare Breed Seminars and she is a link to their Open Shows. With an interest in demonstrating the worthiness of another Vendeen Hound, the Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen, which was just admitted to the Hound Group in January 2018, Kitty serves on the BOD of the Grand Basset Griffon Club of America. In addition to having written numerous articles on Bassets and Petits and Grands Bassets Griffons Vendeens for various magazines and parent club education, she gives presentations to prospective judges of these breeds. Competitively speaking, Kitty has, for decades on her own and then in partnership in Basset Hounds with Claudia Orlandi of Topsfield Bassets in Vermont, co-owned and/or co-bred the Number One Basset Hound for several consecutive years. Kitty graduated from Wells College in Aurora, New York, with a major in English and a minor in Philosophy, and earned a Masters from Cornell University. She taught junior high for 15 years and sold real estate for several years in Pennsylvania. Kitty imagines it is obvious that sharing her time with other fanciers and judges is important in her life. She is approved for the Sporting, Hound, and Toy Groups, a couple of Herding Breeds, BIS, and Limited Juniors.

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